Silence the Product Manager’s Lament—Negotiate through Artifacts
Collaborate | Posted February 25, 2013

Some of life’s tensions never dissipate—they are destined for perpetuity. Consider the Product Manager’s Lament, which extolls the everyday frustrations of many product managers. Although this is a relatively old blog, its core themes still hold true today: Product managers, responsible for defining what features to include in the next software release, are always wrestling with development to include as many of those features as possible.

Developers, innately creative and inquisitive as they are, habitually question the value of the features selected and their contribution to the product, a.k.a. the most ground-breaking, useful and marketable software ever created.

This process inherently creates conflict. And it doesn’t end there.

While the product manager busts his (or her) proverbial bunnies writing functional specs that detail the features for developers to code, developers are busy devising the best approach to implement each feature based on those specs. Because there are usually multiple ways to implement a feature, the developer needs to evaluate the options and select the best one. More opportunity for divergent perspective!

So, while the product manager is chartered with making the next release a commercial success by cramming it with useful and desirable features, developers are chartered with ensuring that each feature is integrated into the whole and coded consistently.

Yikes! That’s a lot to figure out! Add to this the necessity for developers to ponder how the implementation of each feature will impact the code base and the overall evolvability of the code. Remember that, over time, code maintenance can become bear-ish. (Sorry! Couldn’t resist the ursa infused pun.) And even more challenging, developers are expected to make these assessments and decisions before coding begins. Of course they have questions about, and expect input into, feature design and implementation.

These questions require answers, squeezing the product manager’s time and priorities even further.

 

Here's the crucial question: How can a hard-working product manager negotiate such unbridled spec turbulence and the waves of inquiries from development?

My suggestion—try negotiating artifacts earlier in the development process. There’s a lot of negotiating that transpires between a product manager, product stakeholders and the development team. Everyone has ideas, questions and what-if scenarios that need to be explored and evaluated. Negotiation techniques often involve meetings, seemingly endless and confusing email threads and impromptu (and undocumented!) over the shoulder chats.

product manager lamentAlthough these conversations should ideally occur before coding begins, the reality of software development is that developer multi-tasking necessitates that some development effort be invested before consensus on all these issues actually occurs.

Frequent review of artifacts as early in the process as possible, ideally before coding begins, not only drives consensus about feature goals and implementation, but also about product vision, roadmap direction and overall milestones. Discussion will reveal why particular features were selected for inclusion in this release, reducing the need to grapple with difficult questions late in the development process.

Tool-assisted document review expedites the review process by eliminating the sharing, editing and reconciling of documents and other development artifacts typically handled by email. With tool-assisted peer review, teams can makes comments and suggest edits without altering original file content, and everyone can see each other’s comments in the always-current document version. Tool-assisted peer review lets product managers breathe a sigh of relief as they say good riddance to time-consuming comment reconciliation! Even better, developers can use one tool for artifact and code review while gaining insight into development artifacts earlier in the development process. What’s not to love?

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